free html hit counter Google Clarifies Philosophy Re: Content - John Battelle's Search Blog

Google Clarifies Philosophy Re: Content

By - September 26, 2006

Last night I had a chance to speak to a rep at Google about this post: Google is clarifying and stating, for the record, it’s approach to that big, wild world known as Content. From it:

The Internet has broken down many of the barriers that exist between people and information –- effectively democratizing access to human knowledge. By typing just a few keywords into a computer you can learn about almost any subject. Google is one of many organizations that work to make this possible.

But today only a fraction of the world’s information is available online. Our aim to help organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful means working with a lot of information – newspaper articles (many written over a century ago), books (of which there are millions), images, videos (including all of the new footage users are creating), websites, important financial information and much, much more.

Because we don’t own this content, over the years we’ve come up with three primary principles to ensure that we respect content owners and protect their rights:

* we respect copyright;

* we let owners choose whether we index their content in our products;

* we try to bring benefit back to content owners by partnering with them.

There is a lot to say about this, and as regular readers know, I have been somewhat vocal about Google’s role in the world of media for some time. While this post might seem rather DBI (dull but important), it comes at a very interesting time for the company. Primarily, it’s important for folks at Google to have something to point to when they are in the endless business development meetings with the music, publishing, and entertainment industries. It’s clear that scores, if not hundreds of such meetings have ended with a frustrating chorus of “Really, trust us, we swear we aren’t out to undermine your business!!!” A post like this helps Google demonstrate to their potential and current partners just that.

This is not a new issue. I wrote in my book about the first complaints from webmasters when Google went live – threats of lawsuits from online museums and the like.

I sense that Google is starting to truly declare its position relative to content creation companies, and it’s this: we’re not in your business, and won’t be. We might impact your business, and in significant ways, but you can’t sue us for that, brother. Now, let’s go make tons of money, together….and if our margins are higher than yours, well, that’s not our fault….


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9 thoughts on “Google Clarifies Philosophy Re: Content

  1. Joe Hunkins says:

    Right – Google really is NOT in it to produce content, rather to leverage their innovative technologies and technologists to maximize internet and information activity online via searches and pageviews. These make Google money coming and going and sideways from Adsense and Adwords.

  2. JG says:

    Joe: In other words, they are not in the business of making money off their own content; they are in the business of making money off of other people’s content? Is that what you are saying?

    Pshaw.

  3. JG says:

    I still find statements like this one from Google a bit disingenuous: “we let owners choose whether we index their content in our products“. How exactly does Google do this? Does it track down the owners, send them each a letter (followed up with a polite phone call) with their list of included works, and ask them to mark and sign all the ones they don’t mind having included? Or does Google just grab everything in sight, and expect authors to (1) become aware of Google’s content scanning program, (2) become aware of the fact that Google might have grabbed something of theirs, (3) comb through Google and find every last bit of their works, and then (4) notify Google about what to remove?

    Are there any Douglas Adams fans here? Remember the very opening scene in “Hitchhiker’s Guide”, when Prosser is arguing with Arthur Dent about the house demolition plans? I quote the following snippet here, with true claim of fair use, as it is for instructional purposes:

    Mr Prosser said: “You were quite entitled to make any suggestions or protests at the appropriate time, you know.” “Appropriate time?” hooted Arthur. “Appropriate time? The first I knew about it was when a workman arrived at my home yesterday. I asked him if he’d come to clean the windows and he said no he’d come to demolish the house. He didn’t tell me straight away of course. Oh no. First he wiped a couple of windows and charged me a fiver. Then he told me.”

    “But Mr Dent, the plans have been available in the local planning office for the last nine months.” “Oh yes, well as soon as I heard I went straight round to see them, yesterday afternoon. You hadn’t exactly gone out of your way to call attention to them had you? I mean like actually telling anybody or anything.” “But the plans were on display…” “On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.” “That’s the display department.” “With a torch.” “Ah, well the lights had probably gone.” “So had the stairs.” “But look, you found the notice didn’t you?” “Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying Beware of the Leopard.”

    To me, this feels like Google’s approach to letting owners choose what content Google indexes. “Ah yes,” says Googlebot, “our plans to scan your books, your notes, your memos, your interviews, were available on our web page for the past nine months… you, the author, could have made your protests at the appropriate time” “Oh yes,” the author replies, “well as soon as I heard I went straight round to check it out, yesterday afternoon. You hadn’t exactly gone out of your way to call attention to the fact that you had scanned my books, had you? I mean like actually telling me or anything.”

    You can see where this is going.

    Maybe Google’s approach to author choice (opt-out) works if Google is the single and central repository for the entire world. That way everyone in the world knows the one place they have to go for their opting. The problem arises when dozens, hundreds, thousands of copycat projects spring up (storage is infinitely cheap) and all follow the Google precedent. As they all have every right to do. That means an author has to (1) somehow find out about, and then (2) notify, every single one of those hundreds or thousands of book projects around the world, if he/she wants to opt-out.

    So much time will be spent doing this that the author may never have time to write another creative word again. Even despite my hyperbole, that is a real problem.

  4. Keith Cash says:

    I applaud google for making the effort to become the index of everything to everyone. Google is now part of american society as a learning tool and time saver to get the info you need quickly.

    Kudos to Google. Give me content. I need content. I must have content.
    Maybe.

  5. Ben Johnson says:

    I don’t understand why you think this statement clarifies Google’s intent with regard to the scope of its long term business plan, or the degree to which it intends to compete with content providers. You put these words into Google’s mouth “we’re not in your business, and won’t be” but the actual published statement says nothing like this.

  6. Matt says:

    Say there was no google, or universal search engines. Instead, we were all fully empowered to easily construct our own unique algorithms tailor-made to each individual search. Also we were (stay with me here) patient enough to wait months for the data from our web-trawling to materialise.

    Now, who are you going to shout at, Mr Content Owner? The faithfull public, for being interested in your information? Your own IT guy for plugging in that modem cable on your PC to the big scary world wide web?

    Google has just become someone to go mad at, in the same way celebraties do anything to get noticed, then disrespect the little guy asking for the autograph – I’m just glad the little guy in this case isnt so little anymore….

  7. n srinivasan says:

    Let’s face it: Content makers need audience/readers/consumers. They need content. And both need a delivery mechanism/ a bridge whatever. That’s Google. It need not be only Google. Like all soft drinks need not be Coke or Pepsi. No one has stopped any of us to do what Google does and perhaps better.

    But what Google can do is use its powerful search technology to trigger a mail to the content owner when it has ‘indexed’ his/her content.

    Then the ‘display’ need not be in dark attic. It needs not be a case of ‘find-us-if-u-can-just-as-we-found-you!’.

    Come on Google, we appreciate what you are doing as users of content but we may not like it so much if you are user of our content!

    Let us have a fair deal both sides!

  8. Well, this is not a new issue. It existed for a long time in media industry – whether it was a book, movie or any other information product. The fact however remains that every person has the right to absorb the knowledge and present it in a way he feels to express. And if Newton discovered laws of motion long ago – textboks discuss Newton’s laws of motion in the same language – are they penalized for duplicate content. so checking duplicate content by using robots is not a reliable way to identify spam and penalize websites.